I have come across a sentence where 'Niagara Falls' is used without an article. I seem to remember that there is a basic rule of the English language that there should be an article before any specific countable noun. Niagara Falls is a set of three spectacular waterfalls located on the US-Canadian border which makes it plural specific noun. Then why not 'The Niagara Falls'?

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    Your error is in supposing that "basic rules of English" that you have learned in school to help you remember how to speak and write English are actually basic rules. They are in fact just very simple generalizations (often very incorrect ones) that your teachers were told by their teachers. They are not rules that native speakers must follow, nor even usually descriptions of how native speakers talk, nor do they apply to most situations. They're just children's stories; that's all. Adults should not depend on children's stories for direction. – John Lawler Jun 6 '14 at 19:40
  • As an aside, 'falls' (in this sense) is arguably a semantically singular or sometimes perhaps plural noun meaning the same as 'waterfall(/s)', but having plural form and given singular or plural concord. Lower Yellowstone Falls is certainly unitary; Iguazu Falls (' Numerous islands along the 2.7-kilometre-long (1.7 mi) edge divide the falls into numerous separate waterfalls and cataracts, varying between 60 to 82 metres (197 to 269 ft) high. The number of these smaller waterfalls fluctuates from 150 to 300, depending on the water level.': Wikipedia) is (!) certainly not. And how count!? – Edwin Ashworth Jun 6 '14 at 21:15
  • @John: To this day I still believe that my atrocious spelling can largely be put down to having gleefully learned I before E except after C. For a while I really thought that was one of the first steps in climbing a "relatively" scalable mountain, but as I started to discover more and more cases where it didn't work, I simply lost all faith in "spelling rules". These days, I only normally write using keyboards, and usually just rely on built-in spellcheckers (except here, where I had to search the Net because my Google Chrome browser underlines both scaleable AND scalable Grr! :) – FumbleFingers Jun 6 '14 at 21:38
  • They dind't teach you the second stanza: Or when sounded like A, as in "neighbor" or "sleigh". Shame on them. Then there's Neither foreigner had the height to seize their weird leisure, which would be the third stanza, only it doesn't scan or rhyme. – John Lawler Jun 6 '14 at 21:44

Not every common noun gets an article. For example there's no article before many countries except for a few. There's no article before Germany but there's one before UK and USA. In most cases you don't need an article before these kind of nouns unless the context asks for it.

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  • Germany is a singular noun, where in the USA is the collective noun (States), which makes it plural and that's why we put 'The' before US. 'The United States of America' or 'The United Kingdom' or may be The Philippines. – Kabir Jun 6 '14 at 20:03
  • The Gambia? Ukraine or The Ukraine? – Edwin Ashworth Jun 6 '14 at 22:17
  • @user78539: on top of what Ed mentioned, what about "the kingdom of Saudi Arabia?" it's not a collection of many kingdoms. – Noah Jun 7 '14 at 7:19
  • The Federal Republic of Germany does have an article, while America and Britain do not. It's not the country that matters, it's the name. – Jon Hanna Jun 7 '14 at 12:04

In the specific case of "Niagara Falls", your rule fails, because while there are three waterfalls which are The Niagara Falls, "Niagara Falls" is also a place with that name. Saying "Niagara Falls" without a the refers to the place, saying it with a the refers to the falls themselves.

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  • This is not a true explanation of why the 'rule' fails. Certainly, the article would never be used with the settlement used non-attributively, but the composite waterfall is also usually used without: eg 'Interesting fact: According to the U.S.G.S. (United States Geological Survey) of Niagara Falls, it appears that almost 1/3 of the Canadian Falls lies within US Territory ...' – Edwin Ashworth Jun 6 '14 at 21:18

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